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Why is Electoral Reform so Important to Young Voters?

Lilly Birdsong By Lilly Birdsong Published on February 2, 2017
This article was updated on April 4, 2017

Many Canadians were up in arms this week when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he would not fulfill his promise to push through Electoral Reform.  After seeing the results of the United States election this year, it's easy to see why a first-past-the-post system can fail its voters.  But before I get into the details, let's make sure we're all on the same page.

How does our current system work?

The U.S. and Canada both have a very similar system - typically called First Past the Post.  I highly recommend watching the Animal Kingdom explanation about how this works.

Why do voters hate this so much?

Almost all problems with this boil down to one thing - people end up voting strategically instead of voting from their heart.  Let's take Canada's parties as an example.  We've got:

  • Conservative
  • Liberal
  • NDP
  • Green
  • Bloc Québecois

...and a few others.  Now when we look at the ideologies behind these parties and plot them left to right, it ends up being something like this:

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So as you can see, Conservatives are on the right, and NDP, Bloc, Green, and Liberals are on the left.  When you tally up the results from our last general election, the proportion of voters that voted for each party looks like this:

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So as you can see, only 31.9% of Canadians are right-leaning, whereas 67.3% of Canadians are left-leaning.  So how did it work out that the Conservatives were in "power" for so long in Canada?  Let's see the spread the last time Harper was in power.  This is the same chart for 2011:

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Whoa, what a huge difference!  Only 18.9% of Canadians voted for liberals, clearly they didn't have a chance.  But 30.6% of Canadians voted for NDP!  The minority party completely flipped.

What was so frustrating about this election is that if you map this using left-to-right, almost 40% of voters were right-leaning, but still 60% of voters were left-leaning - but we were stuck with a government that didn't represent our views.

A lot of really, really ugly things happened.

  • Scientists were muzzled
  • We spent a boatload of money on new F-37 Fighter Jets that we didn't need
  • Oil Sands.  'Nuff said.
  • Corruption in the Senate

... and that's just a few.  Does this start to sound familiar?

Subtleties in the System

What naturally ends up happening when you have a First-Past-the-Post (FPP) system is that things naturally end up moving more and more towards a 2-party system - because people in the above situation realize ANYONE is better than re-electing that guy back to office, so they band together and vote Liberal and phew! 

But this is completely disingenuous to voters.  Because many, many voters (as you could see from the previous election) actually prefer NDP but they voted Liberal just to knock out Harper.  

Why do we need more than 2 parties?  

Well, we don't always agree about things.  Some people are more centrist when it comes to business policy but more left when it comes to immigration.  The problem with only having 2 parties is that it doesn't give enough subtlety.

When voters go to the voting booth, they don't vote down the ballot to say what we think about the individual issues.  Instead, we vote for a party.  We *hope* that this party will represent us.

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But take the Trump election as a perfect example of how this fails.  How many times did you hear, "I voted for him because of A, but I don't agree with B!"  Well, what happens when he gets elected to office?  He starts doing *all* the things he said he was going to do.  And suddenly there's panic, because the majority of people are standing up saying, "No, no, we didn't want B!"

There's no subtlety.  When someone is voted in, they will presume that their whole mandate was voted in.

How do we fix this?

Well let's look at what we want to achieve.

  • We want to give all voters a voice
  • We want to make sure minority leaders don't achieve majority power
  • We want politicians to have to debate key issues to avoid authoritiarianism

With this in mind, there were studies were conducted that resulted in the 2004 Report by the Law Commission of Canada.  They called it Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada.  The report is nearly 200 pages long - clearly a lot of thought, research, and effort was put into this.  In the end, they made a very specific recommendation - Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP).  Let's let our friend CGP Grey help us understand what this means.

By giving twice as many seats, it means that people can vote per their conscience, still have local representation, but have this representation be proportional.  We now completely eradicate the problem of Gerrymandering (redrawing district lines).  We also have enough people that are representing our *real* views that when decisions are made they should match closer to the wishes of the population (Goodbye, Scientific Muzzling!)

Why is this so important right now?

Inevitably what happens every time someone is elected to office is that we *always* complain about how unfair the system is before the election, and as soon as someone is elected we give up because *always* the party in power is the party that won the election.  That party - whether it's Conservatives or now Liberals - has very little incentive to change the system for several reasons.  First, the system clearly worked for them because they won.  Second, and more importantly, if the system changed they'd have less representatives and they'd have a harder time pushing through their mandates.

Throughout his election campaign Trudeau promised that if we *just* voted for him that we'd *never* have to suffer through another FPP election again.  And yet, little more than a year after he takes office, he reneges on this promise.  

We need to keep the pressure on, keep fighting the good fight - because the problems don't arise when the leader who most accurately represents us is in office.  The problems arise when we "elect" a tyrant who doesn't represent us because our system is faulty.

Https%3a%2f%2fs3.amazonaws.com%2fuploads.bookwitty.com%2fd677ade6 185f 4aa0 b045 d3b5b7d8469a inline original.jpeg?ixlib=rails 2.1
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper

And if it can happen in the U.S., trust me, it can happen here.  We suffered through almost 10 years under Harper, even though he never had more than 40% of the vote.  Many Canadians were embarrassed by his policies, and ducked our heads when trying to explain why funding was cut for the Arts or why we were suddenly denying Climate Change.  A lot of people in Canada thought of Harper as, for lack of a better word, a shifty douchebag.

And I don't know about you, but I'm sick of shifty douchebags.

I am a Sci-Fi writer. I love drinking whiskey, hanging out with my 2 cats, and kickboxing. Check out Children of RIVA if you're interested in my work. Oh, and in my spare time I work ... Show More

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